One of the most important dog care lessons is to remain on the lookout for changes to your assistance dog’s appearance or behavior. While they’re not always cause for concern, such changes can be important clues that something is wrong. It’s best to err on the side of caution and talk to the veterinarian about your observations.
Sometimes, a dog’s nose changes colors, and it can seem pretty weird. The canine nose—a particularly impressive contraption—comes in a variety of colors, based on genetics. Black is common, but they can also be the same color as the coat, brown, pink, or liver colored. Some puppies have pink or light-colored noses that darken as they grow. Typically, if a mature dog’s nose changes colors, it goes from black or another darker color to pink. This is from a loss of pigment.
Usually, it isn’t a sign of anything bad when a dog’s nose starts changing colors, and it’s usually not permanent. That’s especially true if the change coincides with the onset of winter weather and shorter daylight hours (more on this below). But again, it’s better to consult your vet rather than decide for yourself that any change to your assistance dog’s appearance is not a problem.
Here are the primary causes of a dog’s nose changing colors:
Winter Nose or Snow Nose
This is the most common reason a dog’s nose changes colors. A dark nose fades to a pinkish, whitish, or light brownish color when the weather turns cold and daylight hours shorten. Winter nose, also known as snow nose, is harmless and temporary.
The nose doesn’t usually change colors completely, but instead develops a faded splotch that spreads for a while. A breakdown of the temperature-sensitive enzyme tyrosinase, which plays a role in the production of melanin, seems to be responsible. The condition mostly affects certain breeds (including a few common assistance dog breeds), such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Bernese Mountain dogs, huskies, and shepherds.
Illness or Skin Reaction
Occasionally, a dog’s nose changes colors due to a medical condition. The most likely explanations in this category include:
- An infection; you usually see other symptoms like swelling, redness, discharge, or crusting
- Pemphigus, a treatable autoimmune skin condition also causing ulcers, crusting, scales, cysts, pus-filled lesions, and other symptoms
- Lupus, an autoimmune condition potentially causing a wide range of symptoms and often aggravated by sun exposure
- Vitiligo, another autoimmune condition that generally also causes white patches on the skin or coat
- Vogt–Koyanagi–Harada (VKH) syndrome/uveomeningitis syndrome, an autoimmune condition in which melanin-producing compounds are attacked; symptoms usually show first in the eyes
- Contact dermatitis, an allergic response to something the nose touches; often, the plastic in food and water bowls is to blame
- Skin cancer
- A trauma or injury, like a scrape or abrasion, to the nose may be accompanied by color changes during the healing process
Talk to Your Vet
Just because it bears repeating, talk to your vet about your assistance dog’s nose changing colors. Your hearing, guide, or service dog takes great care of you, and it’s your responsibility to do the same. Consulting your veterinarian promptly increases the chances of early detection if something’s wrong, which usually makes treatment easier, more successful, and cheaper. Plus, you want to be sure your dog isn’t suffering and that she’s able to stay focused on her tasks.